Writers Guild of America leaders have set a trio of member meetings in coming weeks to discuss the guild’s proposals to revamp rules for talent agents.
The meetings will take place on Feb. 9 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.; on Feb. 12 at the Writers Guild of America East headquarters in New York; and on Feb. 13 at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles.
During the past year, the WGA has been pressuring Hollywood’s agencies to revamp the rules for agents. That effort is a reaction to Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — moving aggressively into production. As Variety noted in a 2018 cover story, that creates the potential for conflicts of interest that arise when the same company represents the creative talent on one side of the table and is the employer on the other.
The guild notified the Association of Talent Agents last April that it wanted to renegotiate its 42-year-old franchise agreement and sent the ATA a 12-month notice to terminate the existing deal, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement. The terms and conditions of the current agreement will remain in effect through April 6, but will expire if a new agreement is not reached.
WGA leaders have not explained what will happen if a new agreement isn’t reached at that point.
The key WGA proposal says, “no agency shall accept any money or thing of value from the employer of a client” — which would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees. The WGA is also proposing that “no agency shall derive any revenue or other benefit from a client’s involvement in or employment on a motion picture project, other than a percentage commission based on the client’s compensation.”
The WGA has also proposed that, “no agency shall have an ownership or other financial interest in, or shall be owned by or affiliated with, any entity or individual engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”
Agents have insisted that they’re merely responding to how Hollywood is finding financing amid a rapidly shifting business environment. Karen Stuart, exec director of the ATA, said in an August letter that agents have a longstanding partnership with writers.
“The ATA and its member agencies have been your partner in championing writers and their careers for more than 60 years,” she said. “We are proud of the relationship we have enjoyed with the WGA and proud of our agencies’ record of success in representing their clients — your members. Every day, our agencies are on the front lines, fighting for writers’ needs: opportunity, creative freedom, and, of course, fair compensation.”
She also detailed the profound shifts in Hollywood that both sides are facing.
“Media consolidation and other seismic changes in the development, production, and distribution ecosystem have significantly altered the landscape writers — both new and established — face every day,” Stuart said in her letter. “As the writer’s role is central and indispensable, we know that it is of utmost importance to the WGA that writers continue to be able to create freely, access the most advantageous opportunities, and maximize their compensation; the agencies that represent writers, day in and day out, fully share those beliefs.”